Bananas And Phở

Those gnocchi from the previous post had a second life in a more elegant dinner this weekend. We had some friends visit from Boston, so I made a dinner on Saturday night that benefited from a bit of forethought, even though the actual cooking was not too complicated. The presentation was nice, in any case.

To begin, I defrosted a couple of smallish pieces of foie gras and salted and seared them. I placed them on squares of bread (I had baked earlier in the day) that I fried in the rendered foie fat to give them character, crunch, and make them extra healthy and nutritious, which is after all what this blog is first and foremost all about. I topped them with another friend’s carrot-rosewater jam, which struck a balance between sweet, earthy, and floral that was absolutely perfect with the foie. I sprinkled them with Espelette pepper and I put a parsley stem on each one because they cried out for a bit of bright green. You know, on account of the vitamins.

We enjoyed these with a bottle of Gosset Champagne, one of my current grower favorites. For about the price of that execrable yellow label Veuve you can get something with unique personality, sexy depth, and serious food-friendliness. If you don’t know the term, grower Champagne–made by the people who grow the grapes–is real wine that happens to be sparkling, not the industrial swill that many of the big names produce. Seek it out.

Once the foieppetizer was dispatched, it was time for the main dish. I had also defrosted a couple of duck breasts and a quart of duck phở, which were the focus of the idea. I scored, salted, and seared the duck, then put it aside on a plate, covered, to finish cooking. In the luscious fat that had rendered off, I cooked king oyster mushrooms until they were good and brown, then put them aside and salted them, adding a splash of stout vinegar. I piped the rest of the gnocchi dough–fortified with one more egg yolk for a firmer result, since they were to be browned after boiling–and then browned them with sage leaves in some of the duck fat.

I also took apart and steamed a head of romanesco, and caramelized smallish cubes of rutabaga in, you guessed it, more duck fat. Again, also, too, in addition, to reiterate, this is a healthy blog. Then, because fruit is wicked healthy, I caramelized half a banana in still more duck fat and then blended it into the phở to make a frothy, fragrant sauce. I figured that duck likes fruit, and bananas had to like the pie spices in the phở. They just had to. I didn’t need to add anything technical to the sauce; the banana made it plenty foamy.

So each bowl got a few mushroom pieces, some rutabagas, some gnocchi, duck, and romanesco, followed by lashings of foamy sauce and marjoram leaves for aromatic greenery. I opened a 2009 Pierre Chermette Beaujolais to go with this, because there can sometimes be a slight whiff  of banana in these wines. Not the ghastly candied kind in the Beau Nouveau that people still inexplicably buy–that flavor comes from the awful yeast they use–but just a hint. In any case, the pairing worked and the plates succeeded as I had hoped: an austere-looking winter landscape that burst with sensual pleasure: rich flavors, varied textures, and embellished with tropical perfume. A vacation on a plate.

After, we had a homemade camembert for dessert. It never fails to please.

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I'm a painter who happens to also spend a lot of time growing, making, and writing about food. I'm particularly interested in the intersection of frugal peasant cooking techniques and haute improvisation. And I have a really great personality.

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